By Zach Collier
Soft Cyanide made its debut early this year as the solo effort of Devin Barrus. Known for his work in the Post-Hardcore band Former Tides, Barrus’ voice has always had an appealing pop vibe to it, similar in style to Issues’ clean vocalist Tyler Carter. Soft Cyanide allows Barrus to explore this side of his musical sensibilities, incorporating clean guitar leads, electronic sampling, and ample use of synthesizer.
Soft Cyanide solidified its full-band lineup in the summer of 2016. Since that time, members of the band have helped write, perform, and support the project. From top to bottom, the EP they’ve created is well performed. “Younger” is a perfect representation of the band’s ability to function well as a unit. Drummer Chad Jordan drops some awesome fills, lead guitarist Deven Alvarez is featured prominently throughout with some mathy guitar lines, and guitarist Steven Pollock provides punchy rhythm lines and a few harder licks of his own. Barrus’ talents as a vocalist and songwriter really show through on this track, and it’s a great introduction to the overall tone and feel of the band. I especially appreciated the Sting-esque qualities in his Barrus’ voice from 2:15-2:20.
In addition to being performed well, SOFTCYANIDE EP is also well produced. It sounds just as good as anything you’d hear coming from a major label in terms of mixing and mastering. Further, it carries subtle nuances that lend energy and variety to songs contained on the EP. The album’s third track, “Alive,” has well engineered drum beats that maintain interest throughout the introduction. The synth drums on this track are deep, full, and punchy. So much so that when live drums enter at 1:00, you almost won’t notice the shift from synthetic to organic instrumentation apart from the sudden burst of human energy that’s added. When both combine in the chorus at 1:50, it works incredibly well. In many ways, this song creates a more palpable atmosphere than “Younger” simply because of the way all of the layers manage to mesh together.
There’s plenty of variety on this album as well. “Heart Out” plays like a softer Former Tides track. As noted before, “Younger” contains elements of math-rock. “Alive” is a beautiful representation of mellow, but driving, Provo synth rock. Barrus’ vocals here are occasionally reminiscent of Adam Young/Owl City, which works great given the electronic elements prominent on the track. “Sense of Direction” is heavily electronic, features beautiful backing harmonies, and has one of the catchiest bridges you’ll ever hear. Probably the most upbeat song on the EP, it’s definitely an ear worm. My favorite track for sure. “Surrender” is beautiful. It’s a slow burner and carries the emotional weight of the EP, acting as a fitting closer for the preceding songs.
The most important element of Soft Cyanide is Devin Barrus’ voice, hands down. Is he a good writer? No doubt. But his songs wouldn’t work nearly as well without his vocal prowess. I’ve compared him to three incredibly different, but incredibly successful, vocalists. He’s not a dead ringer for any of them, though. He’s able to pull from different vocal styles at key moments, pull back and return to his true voice, and blend it all into one seamless and believable performance that is undeniably unique. It was a real treat listening to him for an entire EP.
This is one of the few albums I have reviewed that has received no criticism. I’ve tried to criticize it, but really, I can’t. It stands well on its own. It is what it is, and it is very good. I’m looking forward to seeing what Soft Cyanide does in the days to come, and consider myself a fan.
SOFTCYANIDE EP will be available on iTunes and Spotify November 17th, 2016. Make sure to like Soft Cyanide on Facebook, and check out the song “Surrender” below.